Since you’re reading this article, you’re probably the kind of dog owner who knows the difference between what’s safe and not safe for your dog.
But there are some things about rock salt – and its safer cousins – that might surprise you.
When it comes to our dogs and winter, here’s something to ponder …
Why Do We Protect Our Cars But Not Dogs From Salt?
Think about what happens to it when you drive behind a salt truck in the winter. That rock salt will corrode the metal and paint of your car. So those of us who live in cold climates take our cars in every fall to spray on some goo that keeps the salt away from our precious cars.
But we let our dogs walk unprotected on the same roads (and sidewalks) we’re protecting our cars from.
Try this experiment at home:
Fill a zip lock bag with a few drops of water, add a tablespoon of rock salt and zip it up.
Now feel the bag.
You’ll feel that it gets hot. Now imagine how it feels between your dog’s toes.
Salt can get lodged in between your dog’s pads where it can heat up to around 170 degrees! That’s hot enough to cause burns. And the pain will cause your dog to lick his paws, which adds more moisture to his feet … and now the salt is on his lips and tongue too.
Rock salt can also irritate his gastrointestinal system … and even trigger seizures when eaten in large quantities (think about how much dogs lick their irritated paws after walking in salt).
So if you didn’t know before, then now you know that you should keep your dog away from salt whenever possible! And you should use safer alternatives if you’re looking to melt snow in your own yard.
But are those Pet Friendly alternatives safe?
Finding Paw Safe Products
With names like “Safe Paw,” “Safe-T-Pet” and “Ice Melt for Pets” those alternative products must be safe, right?
But you have to look at more than the name to know if an ice melt product is really safe. Here’s an example …
Ice melt products can say “Pet Friendly,” or “Safer for Pets/Paws” on the label even if it’s still just rock salt. Because rock salt has jagged edges, they can just round it off and that apparently earns them the right to say it’s safe for paws!
Well, rounded rock salt might be safer than jagged rock salt, but that’s not really the point (no pun intended) … it’s still not safe for your dog (or the planet)!
Here are some of the most commonly used chemicals in ice melters:
- Magnesium Chloride
- Potassium Chloride
- Sodium Chloride
- Calcium Chloride
- Sodium Acetate
- Calcium Magnesium Acetate
Chloride-based ice melters are the most common and cheapest. This includes calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium. It’s basically salt. Chlorides are mined from the earth and made into the shape you see, then packaged.
- Magnesium chloride – can be irritating and result in gastrointestinal upset. Also quite dangerous for dogs with kidney problems.
- Sodium chloride – Large amounts can lead to sodium toxicosis and can be lethal to dogs. Smaller amounts can cause stomach upset like vomiting and diarrhea.
- Potassium chloride – Severe irritant and can cause gastrointestinal irritation to the point of hemorrhagic vomiting or diarrhea.
- Calcium salts (calcium carbonate, calcium chloride, and calcium magnesium acetate) – Calcium salts are the most hazardous as they’re the most severe irritants of all the ingredients in ice melts. If your dog eats these, vomiting and diarrhea are common results. These ingredients are also well-known skin irritants, so they’re likely to bother paws.
Although very effective, ethylene glycol-based ice melts contain the same active ingredient as antifreeze. We know that this is highly toxic and can be deadly if your dog eats it. Stay away.
On the other hand, ice melters with a propylene glycol base, are much safer. Propylene glycol ice melts usually contain urea as the active ingredient. This is generally recognized as relatively pet-safe.
Note: while propylene glycol is quite safe for dogs, it can damage a cat’s red blood cells when ingested.
Keeping Dogs Safe
There’s really no such thing as completely safe ice melter. Even the ones that are safer shouldn’t be eaten.
There are some other things to consider when you’re looking for dog friendly ice melters:
- Don’t buy based on price. Safer ice melt products use more expensive chemicals and are worth the extra expense.
- Find a product that doesn’t have any warning labels on it. If a product isn’t safe for you or your children, it’s not safe for your pets.
- Look for products that are salt and chloride free.
- Visit the manufacturer’s website and read about the ingredients, or do some online research.
Finally, even though you may be using a pet safe product, your neighbors and city may not be. It’s always a good idea after walking your dog to immediately clean his paws with plenty of lukewarm water, then dry them. Some dogs take a while to get used to booties but they’re another solution to keep paws safe.